Abdul R Thomas – Editor, The Sierra Leone Telegraph
31 January 2012
As the people of Sierra Leone prepare to go to the polls in November, the debate as to whether president Koroma has done enough in tackling the country’s economic woes to deserve a second term in office is picking up pace.
Speaking to the country on New Year’s Day, the president spoke of his achievements and the challenges ahead.
But critics are not convinced. They say that the president has presided over four years of economic decline, brought on largely by poor governance, corruption and misplaced public policy priorities.
Just few weeks after delivering his New Year’s address to the nation, his ruling Party went on to lose a significant local by-election in Freetown. Analysts described the defeat as a crucial referendum on the performance of the government, as they seek another term in office.
Last Saturday 28 January, 2012, president Koroma attended the 16th summit of the committee of heads of state and governments of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
He presented his government’s progress report on a range of governance issues, including; political democracy, economic governance, corporate governance and socio-economic development.
This is an excerpt of what he told his colleagues in Addis:
Mr. Chairman, between 1991 and 2002, the governance landscape of Sierra Leone was largely affected by a horrendous civil conflict that further undermined the smooth functioning of state institutions, destroyed infrastructure, led to economic and social dislocation, displaced a large proportion of the population, affected the capacity and professionalism of state security institutions, and tasked Government with a huge burden of reconstruction and rehabilitation costs.
In that decade-long conflict, as in all other violent conflicts around the world, a common lesson was learnt that war is a business of immense loss, that even those who have come out of it with perceived victory have counted great losses in its aftermath.
Mr. Chairman, for us in Sierra Leone, we have also learned in addition to the foregoing that never again shall we allow our existence as a nation to be threatened by violence.
Mr. Chairman, while it may be accurate to suggest that the period 1968-1992 was characterized by poor governance, it was certainly not the genesis of the problem. The emergence of poor governance in Sierra Leone should be traced as far back as 1964.
In 1965, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) led regime of Sir Albert Margai passed the now infamous Public Order Act 1965 which is currently the subject of intense criticisms by the media for muzzling press freedom.
Mr. Chairman, we appreciate the effort of the Review Panel in refreshing our sub-conscious mind to our past which was characterized by poor governance as the basis of the decade-long war.
We have since undertaken major transformational initiatives to redress that past. We have conducted three free, fair and peaceful multi-party elections and about to conduct the fourth one on the 17th of November 2012. We are working on passing the Freedom of Information Bill into an Act of Parliament.
The debate on expunging the criminal libel aspect of the 1965 Public Order Act is on course. We have also empowered our National Electoral Commission and the Political Parties Registration Commission to conduct free, fair and peaceful elections as well as to enforce the electoral codes of conduct.
Additionally, Mr. Chairman, a project entitled Transparency Sierra Leone (TSL) is in the process of being implemented in the country. This is a Government initiative aimed at redefining the way Government communicates, and provides information to the public on what Government is doing; creating an unprecedented level of openness in government and a novel in West Africa.
The initial project introducing the TSL brand is the Transparency Sierra Leone Portal. The portal will give Government the opportunity to improve the quality of public debate by enhancing citizens’ access to Government information in registries, spanning the panoply of Government development projects.
My Government is making frantic efforts to address the inherited distortions in appointment to public office.
Appointment to public office is today made on the basis of qualification, experience and merit rather than on ethno-regional considerations. Every ethnic group, region and gender is represented in my cabinet.
Mr. Chairman, on the issue of political and electoral violence, my Government has taken a firm stance against perpetrators of violence irrespective of their political affiliation.
It is also noteworthy that several mechanisms have been established to ensure political tolerance among the various political parties. These include the All Political Parties Youth Association (APPYA), the All Political Parties Women’s Association (APPWA) and the All Political Parties Association (APPA) and the Political Parties Registration Commission.
Mr. Chairman, the current 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone is now 20 years old and therefore in need of review and modernization. To this effect, as part of the 50th Anniversary Celebrations, I established the Sierra Leone Conference on Development and Transformation.
The review and modernization of the Constitution is a key area of focus for the conference. This will give the people of Sierra Leone an opportunity to make suggestions and recommendations on constitutional government for the next 50 years.
Mr. Chairman, the judiciary of Sierra Leone is committed to fulfilling its vision of bringing quality justice to the people of Sierra Leone, without which there will be no lasting peace and the maintenance of the Rule of Law.
The Judiciary is also in line with the government’s agenda of improving the investment climate in Sierra Leone, attract investment and improve the socio-economic infrastructure of the country. In response to this, the judiciary has set up the Fast Track Commercial Court which became fully operational in May 2011.
The court has three judges tasked with fast tracking commercial cases and clearing outstanding backlogs. The Judiciary’s Training Institute is also fully functional and various training activities are on-going regularly.
Mr. Chairman, in February 2008, the Government of Sierra Leone initiated a range of reform measures to transform the Public Service of Sierra Leone into a modern and efficient organization.
A review of the Public Sector Reform Framework for 2008-2012 revealed that the functions of the Public Service Commission (PSC) in the ensuing years were envisaged to consist of “the development and application of policy frameworks as well as the monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of these policies in the public sector in ICT, Recruitment and Selection, Training Policy, Public Sector Pay and Performance Appraisal’.
To effectively exercise these strategic roles, the PSC undertook an internal review of its functions and mandates so as to first of all reorganize and strengthen itself. Outcome from the above was the preparation of a Management and Functional Review followed by the preparation of a 3-year strategic Plan 2011-2013 which is now in progress.
The Commission at the same time has put in place a system of competency based recruitment which involves written entrance examination at sub graduate and graduate entry levels, followed by some elements of in-tray exercises. The process of reform continues.
Mr. Chairman, it pleases me to inform this forum that mining in Sierra Leone is being guided by the new Minerals Act of 2009 and will be regulated by our robust Mining Regulations to be administered by the National Minerals Agency.
As outlined in the Budget and Statement of Economic and Financial Policies for 2012, a key focus of Government will be on improving transparency and accountability in the management of mineral and petroleum revenues to ensure that Sierra Leoneans realize the full benefits of the mining sector.
The National Minerals Agency, which will be established in 2012, is aimed at improving governance in the mining sector. As a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Government is taking measures to increase transparency in the mining sector.
My government has also established an online repository located on the website of the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources that will contain details of all mining revenues to Government. The aim is to allow Sierra Leoneans to gain access to mining revenues information at all times.
My Government certainly acknowledges the need for reforms that will boost economic growth and thus reduce poverty. Accordingly, my Government continues to implement a number of structural and institutional reforms designed to improve the efficient functioning of the economy.
Thus, in addition to macroeconomic stability, Government is implementing Public Financial Management Reforms, including budget formulation, expenditure management, revenue administration, public sector accounting, recording and reporting, prompt internal and external audit.
The global economic and financial crisis definitely had some impact on the economy in the form of reduced export performance and inward remittances in-flow, accelerated depreciation of the exchange rate and ultimately slower economic growth.
However, my Government in collaboration with our development partners designed a macro response that was implemented in the third quarter of 2009. The short term counter-cyclical response consisted of a fiscal response and an accommodating monetary policy.
Accordingly, the economy grew steadily, greater than the average for Sub-Saharan Africa. Economic growth rebounded in 2010 to 5.0 percent, also above the average for Sub-Saharan Africa of 4.9 percent reflecting in part on the huge investment in infrastructure and agriculture.
My Government’s allocation to the social sectors has been growing significantly during the past four years despite the significant increase in capital expenditure to accommodate the infrastructure investment.
However, as a Government we agree with the Country Review Mission regarding the adequate expansion of investment in social services.
One of the key objectives of the 2012 budget is to continue to expand basic services in health, education and water. Total allocation to health and education in 2012 amounted to 6.8 percent and 8.5 percent of total budget respectively.
My Government continues to implement reforms to increase the role of the private sector in the economy. As a result, Sierra Leone is ranked among the top ten global reformers in the 2012 Doing Business Report published by the World Bank.
Government Budget and Statement of Economic and Financial Policies for 2012 clearly indicates that the National Commission for Privatisation has completed the preparatory phase of reforms and divestiture of public enterprises and is now moving to the implementation phase.
Mr. Chairman, my Government critically recognises how important it is for Sierra Leone to undertake adequate measures to mobilise domestic revenue and gradually reduce donor dependency.
In this regard, serious efforts have been made by my Government and some development partners to enable the National Revenue Authority make tremendous strides to improve its effectiveness in collecting revenue to meet government fiscal target.
The Authority’s revenue collection accounts for about 60 percent of government spending since 2009. This is the outcome of several reform measures on strengthening institutional capacity, integrating and expanding processes and operations and gradually shifting reliance on domestic revenue.
Government has over the years been making serious efforts to address the youth problem. In November 2009, Parliament enacted the “National Youth Commission Act” which laid the foundation for the establishment and operationalization of the National Youth Commission.
The major policy objective is to provide an enabling environment for: creation of employment opportunities for the youth and develop medium and long term strategies; initiate youth development programmes in collaboration with relevant governmental and non governmental bodies.
The National Youth Commission was formally launched on the 25th November 2011 with the special mandate to address Skills Training, Capacity Building and Empowerment for Sustainable Development.
Accordingly, Skills Training and Capacity Building Centres are being supported by Government to ensure that youths are enrolled at these institutions to enable them acquire skills which will make them self reliant.
Also, for the first time since Sierra Leone got independence in 1961, a separate Ministry called the Ministry of Youth Employment and Sports has been established to exclusively address youth problems.
Mr. Chairman, there is need to put the records straight with regards the fight against corruption in Sierra Leone. There has been no political interference in the work of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).
This is evident in the high profile cases sent to court recently, a success that results from the strong anti-corruption Act that is now in place. This success in the fight against corruption has recently won the ACC international recognition.
Mr. Chairman, it is true that electricity supply was abysmal in the country before the commissioning of Bumbuna in 2009. Old thermal plants were broken down and had been out of use in all District headquarter towns.
Electricity production continued to drop from an estimated 245 million kwh in 2005 to less than half this amount in 2007. My Government’s intervention in a bid to address the growing energy crisis upon assumption of the reins of power in 2007 saw the putting in place of a number of short, medium and long-term measures.
These include; a one-year emergency power generation scheme for the Western Area; completion of the Bumbuna hydro project; the Moroccan intervention to strengthen the transmission and distribution network; a 22.68 mw BADEA project; a 10 mw JICA project ; and the envisaged BEKONGOR project.
Furthermore, a rural electrification sub-project seeks to improve the utilization of educational, health, water and sanitation (WATSAN) facilities and community centres and enhance the viability of small agro enterprises by linking them with renewable solar power.
Mr. Chairman, it is deliberate that I have chosen to end my presentation with a note on women’s empowerment. My Government is committed to implementing the recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that women’s representation in public office at decision-making levels be increased to 30%. I have now made several public pronouncements to this effect.